Mutinous Hormones

Wow it’s been a marathon non-blogging session. Have you wondered what’s happened to us? You probably thought we were just busy – three kids, moving back to the US, it’s a lot, right? But there is actually a reason I went offline. It’s because in addition to all of that, once again, my hormones turned on me. I’ve started and stopped this blog post so many times, claiming I was too busy with other things to write it. But it has nagged and nagged at me and the truth is, I am ashamed of what happened and would rather forget about the month of November all together. But I promised myself honesty in this blogging experience so I’m forcing myself to finish this post so I can get caught up.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I have a thyroid condition. I’m usually hypothyroid (which is when your thyroid is underactive). This comes with all kinds of super fun symptoms and I’ve learned that my body is very sensitive to changes in my TSH (the hormone they measure). There is a range for what’s considered normal, and I can usually tell pretty quickly when my thyroid is “off”. It’s something that’s constantly monitored throughout my pregnancies and something I’ve had change pretty significantly after the birth of each child. It usually takes around six months for my thyroid to chill out. It’s just not a very fun process having some crazy symptoms take over my life while adjusting my medication and having constant blood tests to monitor my TSH.

What happened this past November is I went to my OB for my six week postpartum visit and asked if she could order a blood test to check my thyroid. A week later I saw that my thyroid had gone over-active (hyperthyroid). I wasn’t really experiencing any symptoms so I almost didn’t believe it. Then a few days later, wham, I was hit hard. I won’t go into detail about the symptoms with the exception of one – with an over active thyroid, it’s very common to feel nervous or worked up and overwhelmed and this became my norm through the month of November. It was just a few days after my last post. I was constantly feeling nervous and worked up, it was hard to focus my thoughts or feel like I was being productive. It was a month of feeling like I was trying to stop panicking.

In fact, I started having panic attacks, regularly, about two weeks into November. It was really awful. I adjusted my medicine as soon as I saw the blood test results. I KNOW I should see a doctor to do this, but my number was off by the exact amount it was off last time, so I just used the same adjustment feeling confident it would work and knowing that I wouldn’t be able to see my regular endocrinologist here, someone who wouldn’t have my medical history, I thought I was in a better place in this scenario to adjust my meds myself.

In the meantime, I decided to try and see a psychologist to see about getting some medicine to help me with the panic attacks. It’s impossible to know how long I was going to be hyperthyroid – weeks, months – better to try and treat this secondary symptom in the meantime, I thought. I found out pretty quickly the psychologist route wasn’t going to happen. The ones we got in touch with were booked so far out, we’d already be back in the states and I needed immediate help. So my husband made an appointment with a regular doctor who was also capable of prescribing some chill pills for me.

That visit will (hopefully) go down as one of the worst doctor visits I’ve ever had. We were all (the whole family) crammed in his office for about five total minutes, but it was a train wreck. Picture – me standing and rocking my whimpering newborn who just wants some milk while my husband is pulling Little Brother off of every single piece of equipment in the office and Big Sis is trying to draw pictures on a prescription pad sitting on the Dr’s desk….but anyway back to the “appointment”.

Basically after I quickly explained my condition, the doctor wowed us with some amazing insight – that feeling stressed, overwhelmed and panicked is a side effect of hyperthyroidism (mmmm-k, that’s what I just said, no?), and that if we treat the hyperthyroidism I’ll feel better (uuuuummmm, again, yep). He went on to tell me that having three children can be very stressful and overwhelming. Huh, I had NEVER CONSIDERED THAT!!!! But it was so irritating because it was besides the point. I could have no children, job, house, etc. and I would STILL be stressed because the panicking was a result of a health condition, NOT the result of my personal situation.

This amazing and insightful doctor then went on to say that my husband should help me out more and that things would be better. Incredibly insulting considering my husband does MORE than his fair share of everything we have going on! Anyway, I attempted to nod my head, though I couldn’t look him in the eye anymore and I was clenching my teeth and my hands. I requested another blood test to check my TSH, which he agreed to – the ONLY helpful thing he did for me that day. We left as quickly as we could and vented about him all the way to the blood test clinic.

As we spent the next few days making more calls to find another doctor or perhaps a psychologist I could talk to, I suddenly felt the crushing weight of panic lift from my chest. It had been almost four weeks and suddenly I was breathing clearly and as I thought about my week I didn’t feel like I was going to suffocate under the pressure of my to-do list. “I think my thyroid is back to normal” I told my husband. And sure enough, the blood test confirmed it. I was EXACTLY on target with my ideal number. I was incredibly relieved to see those results, though my symptoms told me before I got the paperwork what was happening.

And while I was on the road to recovery, I now felt the crushing guilt of having emotionally abandoned my family for the month. How many times had one of my little ones caught me crying or gasping for air on the floor, asking me, “What’s wrong mommy?” Who wants to stress their kid out? Who wants them to worry or feel like mommy needs their help and (I truly hope they never felt this way) like mommy couldn’t help them?? My husband filled in for me in every way possible, without any kind of guilt trip through that horrible month. But I felt like Little Brother shifted his dependence on mommy to his papa. Like he realized he couldn’t rely on me to be there for him. I don’t know if this is true, but if you add up mommy’s exhaustion and consumption with a newborn and mommy’s emotional unavailability and put it all into his little two-year-old head, then that might be where he ended up.

It’s been several months, and I still feel like I’m repairing the damage of that time. My family has certainly moved on, but my heart still hurts from thinking about myself in that weakened state. Unable to force myself not to panic. Trying to fight what was happening and losing. Reaching out for help from doctors and not finding the right support. It’s a horribly frustrating time and I’m so thankful it only lasted four weeks. I pray my kids and husband can forgive me and know whenever this thyroid problem strikes me (or any other problem), I’ll just keep fighting to get back to normal as quickly as I can.

Truco o Trato, Halloween in Spain

Having a four-year-old means that she’s just old enough to remember (and of course LOVE Halloween), but just young enough to not understand when you gently explain that “they don’t celebrate Halloween here.” “OK Mommy, but I want to be a pumpkin for Halloween,” is the response in her sweet little girl voice. “That’s a great idea. Maybe we’ll save that one for next year when we’re back in Greensboro and we will go trick or treating, OK?” I was sort of expecting tears or perhaps an object to be thrown at me. But instead I just got a blank look, which was worse because I could see that the idea that there is no Halloween in Alicante was simply not sinking in. “Mommy, I changed my mind,” I felt a sense of relief, finally she was understanding, “I don’t want to be a pumpkin. I want to be a My Little Pony instead, OK? OK Mommy? A My Little Pony. OK? OK Mommy?” I was frozen, finally I just said, “Uh, sure.”

I started searching for pumpkin patches the first week of October. I didn’t care if it meant driving somewhere a bit far, I was very happy to take the kids up to the mountains for example, to go pick out a pumpkin. But my search results were bringing up nothing. I began asking friends. They directed me to stores where they sell some Halloween paraphernalia, but we’re talking plastic pumpkins from the cheap-o markets (kinda like dollar stores). I described the concept of the pumpkin patch to friends and received blank looks. They wanted to be helpful, but there is simply no such thing as a “pumpkin patch” here, and certainly not one you can visit. Not even a place to purchase a pumpkin. Suddenly those big bins full of giant pumpkins at the Teet (Harris Teeter, our local grocery chain in NC) were looking mighty appealing. I actually got incredibly lucky, because we had to drive a bit out of town to a Carrefour (a bit like WalMart), and there, in the grocery section, was a little table with small pumpkins on it. I was so excited! I bought one of course and we proceeded to clean and carve it up.

Unfortunately, I don’t have great pumpkin carving knives at my disposal here, and ended up with a gaping hole in one side instead of a face. But it was our little pumpkin, and we had seeds to roast and everything! The kids really enjoyed it and since we don’t have a front stoop here, I put it on a table in our entry hall. Wouldn’t you know it, with our incredibly hot and humid weather, it was rotten and incredibly stinky 48 hours later. I was able to sneak it out to the trash without the kids noticing thankfully.

When it came to everything else Halloween wise we got very, very, very lucky in terms of not having to disappoint Big Sis who simply didn’t understand the idea that one wouldn’t celebrate Halloween – a bag full of free candy, a costume, AND make up….. why wouldn’t someone celebrate this amazing holiday? I have to agree with her on this one. We eventually found a few places that sold costumes. At first, it was a bit frustrating, because they were all incredibly expensive (30Euros!) and there were perhaps 3-5 different costumes to chose from, in just a few sizes. As I don’t have my sewing machine or any of my crafting materials here, making a costume was pretty much out of the question. We continued to look for costumes and asked several friends (who mostly shrugged). Finally, we found a superstore that had several different choices of costumes in different kid sizes. Not the most modern choices, but ultimately, I found one for Big Sis that she was excited about. Her costume was kind of a daughter of Frankenstein outfit. It was super colorful so she was happy about that. Little Brother, who is (like his big sister) very interested in the human body and bones in particular, was a skeleton. It was the perfect costume for him! Baby Boy went as an adorable baby.

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Now, when you live in a place where Halloween is not traditionally celebrated, you need a place to wear the costumes to, right? My husband and I discussed throwing a Halloween party. But ultimately decided against it, as we don’t have any of our decorations here and it would be very challenging to pull off something we’d be happy with, without spending a ton. Just as we were hitting a wall in terms of how to celebrate, a friend happened upon a flyer advertising a trick or treating event that would be happening on three blocks of a street near us! The trick or treating would take place in the businesses that line the ground floor of the buildings on that street. Then, two days later (the Monday before Halloween), the PTA at Big Sis’s school decided to throw a Halloween party for the kids. So with less than a week to go, we suddenly had two events for the kids to enjoy.

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I wasn’t sure what to expect with the party at Big Sis’s school. I was truly surprised at how into Halloween everyone was. Then I realized – if you remember back to some of my posts from this past summer, the folks here in Alicante love getting dressed up for their summer festivals, so it really shouldn’t have surprised me how organized and into full costumes so many were. The Halloween party was cute. There was a lot of candy of course, kids were running wild. Our two mobile kids were going in two different directions. The music was horribly loud and made it impossible for us to hear each other. We eventually decided to go home a bit early so the kids could get some actual food in their tummies before trick or treating.

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Their abuelos called and asked that we stop at their house to get candy on our way to the event. And, some good friends who have two little girls our kids’ age also wanted to join in the fun. We all stopped at abuelos’ house and then went to the street where they had the event. I was shocked to see how packed the street was. This was the very first time any kind of trick or treating event had been held in Alicante, and it was incredibly popular! Unfortunately, the city did not close the blocks off to cars, so we were constantly chasing our sugar-hyped kids and stressed they might step into traffic. (Thankfully nothing happened to our kids or anyone else’s!)

The most interesting part of the night, and the thing that actually brought tears to my eyes, was how the whole thing reminded me of when I was a kid. Because people don’t have a set way of trick or treating here, and also because people are forever sharing their food and giving candy and other treats to kids, including strangers’ kids, the treats consisted of both wrapped and unwrapped candies and pastries, croissants on a tray, potato chips grabbed by the handful from a bag, it was truly sweet. I know, perhaps some of you are cringing. But not one part of me believed that any of those people were up to no good, and further it was a moment my kids could enjoy something I enjoyed as a kid – all kinds of treats, homemade mixed with store-bought in my candy bag. I loved watching the kids attack a store owner, jumping over each other to grab a treat, screaming “Truco o Trato!” and shoving whatever the spoils were into their sticky mouths. There were treats for adults too, wine, etc.

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After an hour and a half or so, we’d all had enough of trying to make sure our kids weren’t hit by a car, and the kids had had enough sugar to last for a year. We all had a celebratory drink in a bar, while the kids literally tore the place apart, running and screaming off their sugar highs. Eventually, we all went our separate ways and after giving the kids a bath, they slept like logs until very late the next morning! I loved seeing the Spanish version of this emerging and extremely fun holiday. Watch out because in a few year’s time, I have no doubt this will become a huge and tremendously fun celebration here.

On The Road Again

I ran my first post-partum 5k this past Sunday. It was the longest 5k I’ve ever run. I’m pretty sure that either someone mistook miles for kilometers, OR, we accidentally ran the 10k. In any case, I finished. Barely. I literally almost stopped less than half a kilometer before the finish line. But finishing was my only goal on Sunday and I am happy that I was able to do that.

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Running has been important to me for most of my life. I ran track in high school and middle school and loved it. I wasn’t the school’s star athlete, but it was always something I really enjoyed. Without really realizing it, by the end of the track season I was able to play an entire game of soccer without really getting winded. That was always my litmus – how my soccer playing was improved by running. It’s ironic really that I became a runner and loved soccer because I also have what’s called “sports induced” asthma. Meaning I won’t typically have an asthma attack if I’m just sitting around or sleeping. However, get my heart rate up and I’m wheezing and gasping for breath without my inhaler. I’ve figured out over the years that my asthma is triggered at a certain heart rate (180/min). The better shape I’m in, the longer it takes me to get to 180/min and the less likely I’ll have to use my inhaler at all. In any case, I am always carrying my inhaler when I run, just in case.

After many years of running track and participating in other organized sports, I just simply stopped when I graduated high school. I went to a university with an enormous campus (Michigan State University) and between walking and cycling everywhere, I lost the freshman fifteen rather than gained it. In fact, it didn’t really matter how much junk food, Mt. Dew or beer I drank, I was skinny as a rail in college. Because I was always walking and biking everywhere, I never really thought about going to the gym, joining a soccer team or running on my own. Plus I was BUSY. I doubled up on classes my third year and graduated in three years (instead of the average five at that time). I was incredibly fortunate to graduate into a strong economy and to have been an officer in my ad club, which landed me a job at a big agency in Detroit about a month before I graduated.

I worked there for two years, again never really thinking about running or exercise of any kind. I was busy getting my feet on the ground as a career woman. I had graduated college at 20-years-old and felt I had a lot of making up to do for my incredibly young age which meant no time for fitness in my mind. I think the next youngest person in my department was 28. (Side note: I’m still friends with/in touch with and/or working with many of those people – and a couple of them even read this blog! Hello!)

During that time, I was also dating my now ex-husband. He was working at another big agency in Detroit and was transferred to Miami. I landed a job there and relocated a few months after him so we could continue our relationship. That turned out to be the first time I moved to Miami (but that’s an entirely different story). It was quite a shock for me, I knew virtually nothing about Miami except that it was in South Florida. A few people had mentioned to me that there was a big Hispanic population there and that speaking some Spanish would come in handy. Too bad I had studied German for seven years! Anyway, besides the culture shock, I was also visually shocked. For the first couple of months in Miami, I was living and working in Miami Beach. The beautiful person per capita there has got to be one of the highest in the world. You can’t help to leave your house and trip over models – people you recognize, others who are just super fit and attractive and celebrities of course. My friend Josh (who was gay and also very new to town) and I would walk around drooling over the man candy. We were both relatively thin and very young (I was 22, he was 24), but we were suddenly feeling incredibly flabby and unattractive. His boyfriend bought him a few months worth of sessions with a personal trainer at the gym at the Delano (he was also filthy rich). But I didn’t have access to that kind of cash, so I decided the most practical thing I could do was start running. All I needed were some good shoes and I could go anywhere, anytime, without a gym membership. While my reason for taking running back up at first was incredibly shallow, I very quickly realized I loved it even more than I did as a teenager.

I only ended up living in Miami for a year that first time (it was too much change for me, again, a story for a different time). But I continued to run when I got back home to Michigan. For the time I was in Miami, I’d only been running short distances, around 2-3 miles/day. But when I got back to Michigan, I decided to see if I could push myself to go further. Within a few months, I was running 5-6 miles. Then, it was New Year’s and I was suddenly deciding that if I could run 5-6 miles, why not run a marathon? I told everyone I saw that week that my resolution was to run the Chicago marathon.

And that was the year that I fell completely in love with running. I realized it was going to be a part of my life forever (hopefully). I was determined that no matter what age or life stage I was in, I would always make running a priority. I feel so light and free when I’m running. It pounds out all of my fears and stress and centers me. Sometimes it just takes a couple of miles to do this, sometimes it takes many. Sometimes it takes a light easy run to put me in a great mood or feel like myself, sometimes, I need to have sweat coming through every pore in my body to feel renewed.

While I did complete the marathon, a few months later I became injured and it took two years of physical therapy and endless doctors’ appointments to figure out what was wrong. Essentially my abdominal muscles were spasming from overuse and had pulled my lower back out of place, which was pulling on both of my hip flexors and literally causing my left leg to pop out of its socket and my right leg excruciating pain with each step. I was unable to run any distance for such a long time and it was incredibly depressing. I didn’t feel like myself for those two years, and even worse, it was unclear if I would ever be able to run again (much less walk without severe pain). Finding out WHAT was wrong was a huge step and it seemed that the solution was incredibly simple (given the amount of therapy and doctors I’d seen), it was simply to strengthen my core so my abdominal muscles got out of the habit of spasming and wouldn’t start again in the future. In fact, it was actually a matter of doing pilates pretty much every day.

After a few months of that, I had no more pain while walking. I was ready to try running again. I started with a one-mile run, but I felt so great, that I went for longer. It was hard not to sob with happiness while on that run. I was able to get out again, without pain. But much more than that, as my feet hit the pavement and the impact traveled up my legs and my back and through my entire body, I was able to feel like me again. I pretty quickly figured out that I could run at max between 6-10 miles before beginning to experience the lower back/hip pain. And that is perhaps my limit for my life. It’s important for me to keep up the pilates/core strengthening in order to be able to run. And while I can no longer run long distances, I’m so incredibly grateful to be able to run at all that it really doesn’t bother me.

Of course becoming pregnant each time has presented it’s own set of challenges. Would my injury come back if I continued to run? Would it be worse if I didn’t run? Would it come back and not go away once the pregnancy was over? It was hard for me to know what to do to avoid a bad outcome, so I just tried to listen to my body, not have high expectations and take it day by day. And because each of my pregnancies was different, I had to do this for each one. Of course with my first, I was also a bit nervous to exert myself too much.

When Big Sis turned three months old and seemed to have some head/neck control, I decided to start running again this time with a jogging stroller. Once again, I started with short distances to get used to my new body and pushing the stroller. But I was practically high with excitement from being able to run WITH my baby! I remember every detail about that first run, even the jasmine that was still blooming in the woods though it was early November, a woman I met on the path, how Big Sis kicked one of her socks off and I had to pause to put it back on (something I’m SO GOOD at now – socks, toys, my cell phone, you name it). That first run led to many, many more. One of my neighbors noticed me running with her past his house every day, and stopped me one day to tell me about a Mommy running group he saw regularly in the park. My head nearly exploded – the idea of running with other moms with kids in strollers was just about the best idea I’d ever heard! My neighbor actually got their contact information and I joined the group right away. They’re called Stroller Fit (in Greensboro – for anyone interested!). I went as often as I could. The group met three times a week back then, now they have more times available. I’ve been through so much with those ladies – I started the week Big Sis turned one, and made friends for me and friends for her. Soon after I started the group, I got pregnant. I felt great, so I continued to workout with them.

After a few weeks, I had a miscarriage. I didn’t tell anyone in the group (I was still pretty new), but I kept working out with them and just being around other moms was a great comfort to me. We talk about every little good and bad parenting moment while out on the trails sweating and getting fit together. A few months later, I was in amazing shape and was even training a bit more intensely with a smaller group from Stroller Fit once a week (in addition). At around six weeks in, I realized I was pregnant again. This time I tried not to think about the pregnancy too much for a few weeks, assuming that the risk of miscarriage was so high it wasn’t worth getting too excited about. Finally, I started to get a bit lightheaded while pushing mats across the gym floor, trying to climb a rope to the ceiling, or jumping over barriers and decided it was probably time to at least cut back on the super intense workouts. But through that second pregnancy, I continued to have my attitude of listening to my body but letting myself get winded/exert myself if I felt like I could. I ran until three weeks before I gave birth. I had to finally stop because it was just so uncomfortable and I had to pee! But I felt pretty amazing during that second pregnancy, and I gained HALF of the weight I gained in the first pregnancy. The birth ended up being a bit complicated (as I’ve mentioned in the past here), and it was good I was in better shape. It helped things go more smoothly.

I started running again after Little Brother was only ten days old. I just couldn’t wait any longer. My first few runs were more like a slow trot, but I was out there. Now with my double stroller and two kids, but I was so happy to still be running after two kids! My pregnancy with Little Brother exacerbated my asthma, and I had a reduced lung capacity that started at the end of my third trimester, and lasted for many months after. I also had a weird sensation in my abdomen that came whenever I ran or sprinted. It was like my muscles were out of place. At first I thought it would be temporary, but again, that sensation lasted for about a year. This time, around I’m not having that sensation in my abdomen but instead have an ache in my pubic bone, as if it’s still out of place. As I’m only two months postpartum, I’m assuming it probably is and that this will go away soon.

When I became pregnant this third time, I was hit almost instantly with pretty intense nausea. I continued to workout and run whenever I felt up to it, but it was truly a challenge as most days turning my head to quickly had me running to the restroom. The other big running challenge I had was that just a few weeks in, my asthma had gotten pretty bad. Walking quickly across a room actually triggered it, and I’d be wheezing as I walked into a meeting. My doctor prescribed a different inhaler and I used it pretty heavily throughout my pregnancy. I was definitely not as intense in terms of working out through my entire third pregnancy as I was with the second, but I have been incredibly active. Having two little kids means you are going to be active if you like it or not. And living in a place without a car for the third trimester has also meant a ton of walking. Once again, I gained the least amount of weight with this pregnancy, but had a bigger baby! And afterward, almost all of the weight came off within the first two weeks (a huge case for not having a car!). I’ve managed to actually gain some of that weight back. You see, I had NO appetite for my entire pregnancy (with a few exceptions, days where I felt some twinge of hunger). Each day getting myself to eat was a challenge, I had to think of the baby to force bites down my throat much of the time as my nausea, while not severe in the second and third trimesters, never left. The INSTANT this baby came out, I was STARVING. I ordered and ate the hugest hospital dinner you’ve ever seen the night Baby Boy was born. I’ve been sort of making up for my lost appetite ever since (and of course throwing in breastfeeding, which makes me ravenous, I’m now an eating machine). So, I’ve managed to gain back almost 10lbs. Sheesh. I supposed I need to cut back on the ice cream…

Once Baby Boy was about six weeks old, I finally felt ready to hit the road again. I waited longer this time around, mostly because I was so exhausted with the three, because the weather here has been so unbearably hot and because we walk so much I was getting some exercise that way. But I needed to run again. I don’t have a stroller to take all three kids in, so now I need someone to watch 1-3 kids while I get a run in. And I need to fit it in-between feedings. It’s much more complicated than it was in the past. When I started running, I was still terribly exhausted from coming off the illness that Baby Boy had, so I decided to start running on my own, without any kids/stroller. My husband watched the kids while I ran what I estimated to be around three miles on my first run. I felt amazing! It was so fun to be out there, feeling good, and running next to the water. Pretty much perfect. I felt so good just a few weeks ago, that we decided to go ahead and sign up for a 5k, even though I’m only two months post-partum. My husband runs with the double stroller pretty regularly, so he decided to push the two kids during this race (usually it’s us sharing it, with me taking the bulk of the pushing as that’s how I’ve been running for 4 years now). My in-laws agreed to take the baby while we ran.

It felt SO GOOD to be in a race, this time with the extra bonus of running through the old neighborhoods of Alicante. It was quite picturesque and we were having an amazing time. We were one of the only people with a stroller, and we were the only ones with a double stroller. It sort of shocks me that in a place where people walk so much, that more people don’t have running strollers. Our stroller is significantly easier to push around on the crazy bricks or cobblestones and big curbs we come across throughout each day. I’ve used/pushed friends’ (expensive!) strollers, and ours is definitely much more easy to push. But anyway, I was happy to see others (all dads) pushing their kids in strollers, but also felt bad to know that their experience racing with a stroller could be much improved with the right equipment. Perhaps we will start a trend? We certainly had a running commentary from other runners and spectators (all positive!).

I was doing great until I realized we’d only completed 2 kilometers and I was starting to get winded. In our rush to get everyone out the door and get the baby to my in-laws before the race, I forgot my inhaler. Rookie! Sure enough, by the third kilometer, I was having a full on asthma attack. I actually had to stop and walk briefly, three separate times. My lungs were on fire. I’ve never had an asthma attack and not stopped what I was doing and used my inhaler. I just kept pushing myself, thinking that I should be able to do the race and that it was short so surely I’d be fine. Instead I experienced the worst lung pain I’ve ever had. It felt like I was going to start spitting blood, and then I was seeing spots on the edges of my vision. I was about to pass out. We were less than half a kilometer from the finish line, and I was very seriously thinking about stopping. I’ve NEVER quit a race. In fact, I don’t even quit when a fitness instructor challenges me to something. I just press on no matter how much it hurts. I enjoy the challenge. But in this case, I truly thought I wasn’t going to make it.

I’d been promising Big Sis that she could get out of the stroller and run the last little bit with me, across the finish line. Though I felt horrible, that’s what kept me putting one foot in front of the other, her excitement. She got out and we ran the last bit holding hands. One of the amazing side effects of her accompanying me on countless runs over the past four years is that she also loves to run. She is able to run shockingly long distances (she’s actually completed a two mile loop at a park with me, though very slowly). I hope that someday (soon!) the two of us will be able to complete short runs together. My husband and I will probably also let her try to run a 5k with us next year. We’ll bring the stroller for when she gets tired. But with the two of us loving to run, we’re very excited that at least one of the kids has already shown an interest in picking up the sport.

We’ve decided to go ahead and sign up for another 5k in the next few weeks. I believe I can really improve on my time pretty quickly by continuing to complete training runs while pushing the stroller and working in time for strengthening exercises at home in-between. And of course making sure to bring my inhaler next time!

My husband and I met through Match. His profile picture was taken the moment he completed the Austin marathon. When I received his first email, I was immediately intrigued to learn more about him because of that picture and obvious shared interest. As it turned out, we both completed one marathon and had almost exactly the same time. We both crossed the finish line with our arms above our heads in victory. We have a picture frame with those two pictures side-by-side, as if we’d completed our races together. When we first started dating, we very quickly started running together regularly. That was in-between hikes and kayaking and playing soccer and everything else. It’s been something we’ve been able to share and enjoy together and I hope that we’re able to continue doing for decades to come – hopefully with one-three of our kids joining us!

The Adventure Continues

Here we are with a nine week old, and I’m suddenly sleeping at night again, everyone is relatively healthy (besides the perma-mucus which I think has already set in for the winter for Little Brother); and I finally have the energy to update the blog again. I apologize for the long stretches between but whoa sleep deprivation is so intense! It’s like I become a different person. I can’t even remember what other things might be important to me besides sleep, the next feeding, laundry, diapers, etc. I feel like the other kids get a bit neglected (Disney 24/7 anyone? Here take the Play Doh and enjoy, unattended, I don’t even care about the consequences. It’s washable and non toxic. Go at it.). In fact I remember when Little Brother was born I was so desperate for sleep I would put on a Disney movie, lay down with Big Sis on the sofa, fall asleep and repeat as much as possible. I shudder remembering those days but it was survival, people. I wasn’t working and we couldn’t justify childcare, even part time. And without any family nearby in Greensboro, and the fact that my husband was working an unusually intense schedule that year, I was at the end of my rope. I’m thankful each day that while there’s no way to escape the sleep deprivation of a newborn, that past two months have never been as awful as it was two years ago.

And now I can see that we’re inching our way past that painful sleep deprivation phase again and I’m so excited. It’s also that period when the baby first starts becoming alert and interacting, when you start to get a sense for their personality. Having a baby smile at me is just about the most amazing thing I’ve ever experienced and it has been no less thrilling with number three. I find myself being just as dopey and silly with him as I ever was trying to tease out a dimply smile from my first. I even felt just as overwhelmingly excited when he started cooing and reaching for toys. It’s just amazing to watch them as they grow so incredibly and terrifyingly quickly in the first year. It literally feels like Little Brother was just a baby, probably amplified by the fact that Baby Boy is wearing mostly Little Brothers’ hand-me-downs, which haven’t even had time to collect dust.

Anyway, I should catch up on everything that’s happened in the past few weeks since I last wrote. Though much of my day is spent sitting and nursing Baby Boy, life never seems to slow down. Even having a reduced work schedule for both of us, away from homeownership responsibilities, lawn care, etc.; we still manage to always be incredibly busy.

In mid-September my parents came for a visit. This was very exciting for everyone. It was their first trip to Europe/Spain/Alicante and there were a million and one things I wanted to share with them. But mostly I wanted them to meet their new grandson and also come away with a sense for what it was like to live here so they have a deeper understanding of this important part of my life. It was so much fun to share Alicante with them, especially as it’s a city I’ve come to love. I think they enjoyed it quite a bit. They definitely liked trying some of the local food, the incredible amount of walking we do and just the time experiencing a different way of living. I wish they could have stayed longer, but am thankful for the two weeks they were here.

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While they were here, we celebrated Big Sis and Little Brother’s birthdays. We had a little family celebration for Big Sis back in August, but put off having a birthday party for her because of the imminent arrival of Baby Brother. But she’s been asking and asking and asking about when her birthday party would be, and I knew I couldn’t get away with skipping one. So, having a party for them in September, in-between their birthdays, made sense. It was a pirate theme as they both love “Jake” from Disney’s Jake and the Neverland Pirates (“and me,” as Big Sis always adds). The party was a crazy sugar fest with music and stories and face paining and we enjoyed it so much!

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Since my parents were here and we had a couple of extra hands, we also attempted a family photo shoot. It was pretty much a disaster. While most family with small children photo shoots are really challenging, one typically ends up with a few great pics. Not in our case. They were all pretty horrible. Ah well. Here’s a bit of a look at the reality of a five person family with three kids under 4 photo shoot:

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Because my parents were flying back to the U.S. through Madrid and because we had to take our new son to the U.S. embassy to “present him” in person along with a fat ton of paperwork in order to claim his U.S. citizenship and get his passport to return to the U.S. in January; we all traveled to Madrid the day before my parents left to spend one day touring a city I’ve come to love almost as much as Alicante (sorry, beach wins every time).

We had a great time checking out the Puerta del Sol, the Plaza Mayor, el retiro, el Gran Via, etc. It was quick and fun. My parents left very early on a Sunday morning. We were staying at a super small hotel and I (up nursing of course) heard them as they checked out. I grabbed Baby Boy and ran out to give them one last hug, and my mom and I noticed that Baby Boy was burning up. The temps in Madrid were much cooler, and I’d put him in some snuggly warm pjs for the night and figured I’d just over bundled him. My mom looked a bit less convinced. She was remembering that I’d complained that he hadn’t nursed well the two days prior. I was still too groggy to put it all together and they were running out the door so I didn’t give it much thought until a couple of hours later when I realized Baby Boy was still burning up. My husband and I were at that moment trying to check out of our hotel and were on our way to his aunt and uncle’s house in Madrid where we would stay for a quick visit with them before going to the embassy in the morning and leaving. Fortunately, we found an open pharmacy (it was a Sunday so of course most everything here is closed), and we purchased a thermometer. We found that Baby Boy did have a temp, around 100.7 F. I felt immediately sick to my stomach. He was two days shy of seven weeks old. A new fever record in our house. Little Brother also had a fever at a tender age, though for him it was around 10 weeks. And that panicked us of course. We didn’t have to go to the ER that time because our doctor told us that as long as his fever remained below 100.4, we could treat him at home. His fever went up to 100.3 and then started coming down. But I knew from that experience that we needed to go to a hospital.

To say I was tense was an understatement. My husband wasn’t sure what hospital to go to, so he started making phone calls. It was still pretty early on a Sunday morning so no one was answering. We took a cab to his aunt and uncle’s house. They were traveling back from a quick trip out of town themselves and had left their keys with some neighbors. I collapsed on a bed with Baby Brother and fell asleep while we waited for someone to call and give us some advice as to where to go. A couple of hours later, as soon as my feverish baby woke up, I took his temp. It had come down to 99.5. Around this time, some friends (one of which is a doctor and the other a nurse), called to tell us which hospital to go to in Madrid and to go right away. We explained that Baby Boy’s temp had come down and they said in that case we could probably hold off going to the ER, but not to hesitate if his temp went back up again. I checked his temp compulsively for the next 24 hours but thankfully, it went back to normal and he started nursing better so we thought he was going to be fine.

Because I was feeling more relaxed, when my husband’s aunt and uncle arrived, we had a great visit. I absolutely always enjoy seeing them and they always make us feel so incredibly welcome in their home. Their son, my husband’s cousin and his three handsome boys dropped in the next morning on their way to work/school and another treasured uncle was able to very briefly say hello as we made our way to the train station the next day. So we were certainly able to maximize our short time.

But the purpose of our visit came on Monday morning, when we took Baby Boy to the U.S. embassy in downtown Madrid. My husband’s aunt and uncle generously offered to watch Little Brother and Big Sis while we took care of business, so it was just the three of us. I had tediously prepared for months for this visit. The embassy provides very specific instructions online as to how to apply for citizenship, a social security card as well as a passport for a child born overseas. I had begun collecting the necessary paperwork and information a couple of months before our visit, as there are things one would never expect that are required. For example, proof of my marriage to my husband. Now, I’m a citizen and it’s not a legal requirement for the two of us to be married to have a child, so I was very surprised they would require a copy of our marriage license. Thankfully, we had brought that paper with us to Spain. I was also required to bring a copy of my divorce decree – which again, I’m trying to claim citizenship for my son, under my current name, with my current husband and have no idea why my divorce would factor into this in any way. With the help of my mom, I had to request that paperwork around six weeks before our trip as anything related to my divorce is in storage under a mountain of dust.

So, after all of the documents and copies of documents and baby passport photo (no fun, though we received lots of compliments from the officials on it being well done – I guess third time’s a charm?), proof of this and that, we finally were at the embassy and going through the paperwork. The first woman we spoke with was even complimenting me on being so organized and prepared when suddenly she stopped, “And what about the proof that you’ve lived in the U.S. for at least five years of your adult life?” She asked. I looked at her blankly. “Um, huh?” I managed. She went on to explain that while I had proof for one year, I needed proof of having lived in the U.S. for at least five years. I was super confused. I pulled out the list that the embassy had provided on their website, which I had even printed and brought with me, and doubled checked – nope, it most certainly didn’t say anywhere that I needed five years of proof. “Well, maybe you can just run home and grab some paperwork for us?” She suggested. I laughed, “I live in the U.S. and all of my paperwork is in storage. Anyway, even if I had it here, I’ve traveled here from Alicante just for this purpose and I can’t just ‘run home'”. I was almost in a panic when she said, “We’ll have you do an interview with one of our officers and perhaps he will know of another solution, especially since you have all of the rest of the paperwork in order.” I appreciated her being so nice, but I was dreading being told we didn’t have the paperwork.

We waited and waited and waited for over an hour as everyone else in line (behind us) went ahead for their interviews. I was worried our case was super complicated, and perhaps we wouldn’t even be seen that day when finally the officer called us up. He was American but looked Spanish and had a Spanish name – perhaps he had a background similar to my kids I wondered hopefully. He was not smiling at all though so I kept my mouth shut. He had us make a sworn statement, then he started questioning both of us on very random things from our background while staring at each of us intently. He asked about work, school, our kids’ births (all three), their full names, why my husband came to the U.S., etc. I finally offered to show him my other kids’ birth certificates and that’s when his serious look finally broke and he seemed to relax a little. “No need,” he said, waving his hand toward a computer screen he’d been looking at while questioning us, “I’ve got it all right here. I was just verifying the details with you guys.” Ah. Big Brother at work. Apparently our data was available online, just a few clicks and he could easily verify our lives in the U.S. Ugh, but at least we didn’t have to worry about returning to Madrid with more paperwork!

We made our way home and back to school the next day. All was well until the following night when I woke up around 3.30 am to feed Baby Brother. I picked him up and knew instantly that his fever was back. I took his temp to confirm – 100.7 F again. I began shaking and ran to wake up my husband (who was sleeping in another bedroom so we could both get more rest). “We need to go to the hospital right now!” I said. Always a nice way to be woken up in the middle of the night. To his credit, he hustled big time and we chatted for a while about what to do. It’s extra complicated of course because we have two other little ones and no one wants to wake them up in the middle of the night to go to the hospital (or expose them to germs unnecessarily). And, my husband can drive here and I can’t. And there’s no flipping way my baby is going to the hospital without me. So, we were at an impasse until morning. Thankfully my baby was nursing and then went back to sleep without crying so I felt like it wasn’t an emergency. But at the same time, I most certainly couldn’t sleep so I just held him in the dark until the sun came up.

We rushed around getting the kids ready for school and I put a few extra things in my purse-a couple of changes of clothes for baby and my ipad, in case I was going to be spending much of the day at the hospital. As soon as we had dropped both kids off, we ran over to the doctor’s office (like literally ran since we walk everywhere here). We went to make an appointment (for right now, please!) and a nurse overheard us and said that we should just go straight to the ER. The doctor said to come up first, so we did and he basically put his hand on Baby Boy and said, yep, this kid’s feverish – go go go! I ran to catch a cab while my husband went to get the car (I just didn’t have the patience to wait another 20-30 minutes for him to retrieve the car). When we arrived at the hospital and I explained to admissions why I was there, I didn’t wait for even a full minute. Baby was evaluated immediately and then was immediately taken to see a pediatrician. They did an exam, took blood and urine and sent them for analysis. At this point, my husband had arrived and we were having a cup of vending machine coffee while I nursed baby in the waiting room. They took his fever very seriously which gave me a ton of comfort. As I looked around the sad little toy area in the pediatric floor, I noticed that most of the toys were broken or missing parts. I realized I have the perfect place to give some of the toys away that we won’t be bringing back to the U.S.

After about an hour, they informed us that the blood and urine analysis were all clear and it seemed our baby was fighting a virus. As he was still burning up, they sent us to a room and told me we’d be there overnight for observation. While neat and clean, the accommodations were nothing like what I experienced for his birth just a few weeks before. This is the public health system and I had given birth using our private insurance. The room I was shown to was actually a glass cubicle in a line of cubicles. There were two cribs and two easy chairs in the room, and that was it – not even a bathroom!! Thankfully we didn’t end up having to share the cubicle with anyone but we most certainly weren’t alone. Besides the fact that one side of the room faced the main hallway of the pediatric wing (hello every single person walking by!), it was also in a line of cubicles with other families on either side of me. In the cubicle to my left was a mom and son who had been there for five days and were desperately bored. Her son was getting ready to be released, but she was losing her mind with not knowing how to entertain him or herself anymore. “There’s not even a TV or anything in these rooms!” she pointed out. I found the bathroom situation to be particularly tricky. I had to call for a nurse to come to my room so I could walk (a bit of a distance) to the closest bathroom, which was a toilet and a sink. If I’d been there for more than a day and a half, how on earth would I have showered? I really felt for the other families who were there with much more serious situations than I was. Especially as we were getting ready to be released the next morning and I almost collided with a nurse running down the hallway with a bowl full of blood.

In the meantime, my husband of course was at home most of the time I was there with my sick babe, taking care of our other two. My in-laws were thankfully able to come and feed the kids dinner and help put them to bed while my husband brought me a change of clothes and some toiletries. While I was in the cubicle, the nurse kept coming and asking me to put Baby Boy in the crib. I wasn’t trying to be difficult, but he just wanted to be held (he was miserable), and not just held, but held next to my naked chest. He screamed if he wasn’t able to nurse (comfort nursing), but was perfectly content snoozing if I held him next to me. This went on for hours, until finally the nurse came and insisted he go into the crib to lower his temp (her theory was my body heat was keeping his temp up). I finally agreed to her tactic as I’m certainly no expert. I held Baby Boy’s hands and sang to him while he screamed in the crib. After about twenty minutes of this torture, the pediatrician came in on his rounds to see us. He was disturbed at how upset Baby Boy was, he told me to take him out of the crib and hold him. The nurse was there and explained her point of view to him, but he disagreed (what a relief) and I wasn’t asked to put him down again. So I sat with him all night in the chair. If I’d had a bed, I might have been surprisingly comfortable, as once again, NO ONE came into my room all night to poke at us, and they turned off all the lights, even the hallway lights. And the very sick kiddos in the cubicles next to us slept quite soundly through the night.

Thankfully, the pediatrician came in the next morning and said since baby’s fever had finally come down, that we could go home. I was incredibly relieved. So happy that my baby didn’t seem to have anything serious and so happy we could go home to recover in peace and comfort. And so incredibly thankful we weren’t among the others there with much more serious problems. Baby Boy continued to get better through the next ten days, though very slowly; until he started getting worse again. Unfortunately, he developed an ear infection and we had to put him on antibiotics. Which he had an allergic reaction to. Yes, it was a glorious couple of weeks.

the glass cube:

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Two huge thumbs up to the public health system here, which I have found to be really fantastic. Again, assuming that something free will be not that great (and I’m sure it has some shortcomings I’m not aware of), it’s been super easy to navigate and I feel my children have been well cared for. In fact, the pediatrician we were assigned took it upon himself to look up the US vaccine schedule to ensure Baby Boy is on schedule when we return to the US, as the recommendations for Spain are slightly different and he’ll receive two rounds of shots before we return. How lucky we’ve been to have great medical care during this trip.

Unfortunately Baby Boy first spiked a fever just as Ebola arrived in Spain. Right when my fears about my tiny baby’s health were at their peak, the news about the nursing assistant in Madrid who contracted Ebola came out, along with the fact that she went about her life in Madrid for ten days, while contagious, before finally going to the hospital. While the details of her behavior are horrifying, I’m going to skip that for now and just say that the proximity of a person with Ebola, being at a hospital in Madrid around the same time I nearly took my tiny feverish baby along with my other two very young tots there caused me to seize up with terror. I literally kept playing the scenario over and over that we could have been exposed, no matter how ridiculous it seemed or how slim the chance or “how difficult Ebola is to catch”, I couldn’t calm down. It was most certainly a combination of the stress from my baby being so sick, me being even more sleep deprived as he was inconsolable day and night, and suddenly feeling so incredibly far away from home. For the first time, I told my husband I wanted to go home. And just as I was contemplating whether that was really a good idea, the news about Ebola in the US started coming out. It felt for a few days there that there was nowhere safe in the world for us to be and there was nothing I could do to protect my children from this virus.

Now, to provide a little background, I’ve actually been following the Ebola outbreak in Africa for many months. I went on a mission trip to South Africa ten years ago, and while that is quite a vast distance from the Ebola outbreak, ever since my trip to South Africa, I’ve continued to have an interest in the news coming out of the continent. In this case, I was probably one of the people who felt a tiny flicker of fear around the virus eventually spreading outside of West Africa, and when it finally happened I was both not surprised and nervous. So throwing the timing of everything else that was happening in our little house, one might understand how I was a basket case for a few days. Yes, I understand the actual risks (according to the experts and the information that’s available), and the proportions and all of that. But once your head goes to a worst case scenario, it’s hard to stop that train. I’d also like to say that the people who have been effected by this horrible virus are in my prayers, as are the incredibly brave and selfless healthcare workers caring for its victims. Thankfully, with my baby now being completely better and a week of significantly more sleep and a clear head, I am no longer panicked about coming into contact with the virus.

One of the other outcomes of this lengthy illness for Baby Boy was that he nursed less, significantly less in the first five or six days he was sick. When we were at the hospital and I saw his weight loss for the first time (around 1/2 a pound!), I was devastated. New moms work so hard to make sure their babies are eating and gaining – it’s practically our sole focus for the first few months, and to see the scale go backward was just heartbreaking. And knowing we’d  not only have to help him regain the lost weight, but catch back up to where he should have been – but of course it’s not that simple when nursing is it? Because at this point my milk supply was reduced, and I’d also have to work on increasing it, again. I felt like we’d be set back from this illness for weeks or even months. I consoled myself with the fact that we weren’t returning to the U.S. for several months, so we’d at least have extra family support while working on getting back on track.

At the end of the first week of the illness, I took Baby Boy to a health food store near me to see if they had any supplements that might help. I walked in and tried to explain that I needed something to boost my supply. There was a lot of gesturing to my breasts and the breasts of the two employees helping me, but once we all felt confident we were on the same page, they handed me a package of barley pills. They could see I was a bit skeptical, so they suggested I take them for the next three days and promised that if my supply wasn’t up by then, they’d gladly return the pills – the bottle was around $15, so not super cheap but not insanely expensive either. I decided to take their offer and they were absolutely right. After two days, I had an incredible amount of milk! In the first few days I had to pump the extra ounces out, and poor Baby Boy was choking during feedings due to the force of my letdown. Needless to say, I was thrilled to have that little secret weapon. The results of Baby Boy’s weight gain were incredibly fast as well – he gained around a pound in about a week! It was amazing and we were so relieved to see him getting healthy so quickly after such a severe illness.

And this past week has been even better – he’s sleeping better (without me holding him!), he’s nursing faster and he’s playing and smiling all the time. In fact, he’s the smiliest baby I’ve had. So far, while he’s smiled a few times at other family members, he saves most of them for me (so therefore he has me completely wrapped around his tiny sweet little finger). He is so happy when we’re together that he even manages a little laugh here and there.

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how we get around (& me pushing the other two in a double stroller)image

While I’m so pleased that things are back to normal with our little baby, I’m also enjoying the other kids a lot more (now that I have more hands free time and emotional availability). Big Sis, who I’ve written a lot about, has been doing so well in school. She’s there full days and is truly upset when the weekend comes and she can’t go. She is constantly recognizing her friends when we walk around Alicante. And her Spanish is just incredible, to the point where she’s forgetting some of her English (not worried a bit about this), and she sometimes has to ask her Papa to translate something for her so she can tell me about something that happened at school. This time has also allowed me to freshly remember that while she can be challenging, her personality is truly exceptional. She is so confident about herself and always stands up for what she believes is right. She is one of those people that could truly change the world, she’s such a force to be reckoned with. Though we do have to work a bit on teaching her boundaries when it comes to strangers. Because she has no fear, she’ll approach anyone and say what is on her mind without hesitation. This can be both wonderful and fun, and also well, a bit embarrassing. We were at the train station a few weeks ago to buy our tickets to Madrid. My husband was talking to the agent and I was standing near some benches with the kids. A man who seemed to be homeless was sitting on a bench near us, eating a package of crackers. Big Sis sat down right next to him, and said, “Hola.” In her friendly way. He gave her a slight nod an went back to eating. She continued to stare at him and as I was trying to think of a diplomatic way to get her to come closer to me, she leaned over and asked him if he could share his snack with her. He paused eating for a moment, glanced at her, gave me a look (surprised/dirty, I’m not sure) and continued eating. I was speechless. I asked her to come and stand near me, but she stubbornly refused and asked once or twice more if the man could share her snack with her. Just as I was about to melt into the floor my face was so burning hot, my husband came and we left. Big Sis and I had a long chat about strangers and asking random people for food on the way home. But she really does make life so much fun, I am never bored with her around!

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I’ve been thinking about this whole crazy turn of events – what I mean by that is pretty much everything that’s happened to me in the past five years, 99% of which has been amazingly good. I look back on me before, and I have mentioned several times that I never pictured myself with three kids. I realized something important about that – it’s because it was just me. Now that it’s the two of us – my husband and I, I can see how three just makes sense. I don’t even know if this is where the journey ends or not, I just know there were others I dated before who I couldn’t picture having even one child with. I know how important one’s partner is in parenting. I just never realized how influential it could be on the kid count. This insight makes me even more grateful for not only my beautiful children but also for the amazing partner that is my husband. I know for an absolute fact that I would not survive my current life stage if it weren’t for him. And because of him, I’m not only surviving, I’m enjoying it SO much. Thanks for being in this 100% with me.

Inside Our Chaos

Still struggling with severe sleep deprivation over here which is sucking my creative juices. I haven’t been able to think of a topic(s) to post on so I decided to share a couple of days in our lives. I’m not calling them “typical” because no two days are ever the same for us. Though we have some habits and some kind of routine, things rarely look the same from day to day. So I’ve been capturing two days to share what kinds of things we’re up to during this trip, my “maternity leave” (in quotes because as a contract employee this is unpaid leave of course) and my husband’s sabbatical.

DAY 1:

Wake @ 7.55am in a panic – I forgot to set my alarm (for 7.30am) and run to discover my husband and the big kids are already awake and eating breakfast. He didn’t want to wake me to give me a bit more time to sleep, the problem is unless I get up at 7.30 at the latest, I don’t have time to nurse the baby and get ready before it’s time to walk the big kids to school at 8.45am. On this morning, baby just doesn’t want all of the milk I have so I have to now pump the rest before leaving as well.

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Because my husband decides to make my breakfast and coffee and bring it to me while I’m nursing and because he does most of the heavy lifting as far as getting Big Sis and Little Brother ready these days, I manage to make it out the door with everyone at 8.50am.

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(ABOVE: my kids destroy their beds every night, I put them back together before we leave for school)

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(ABOVE: My husband packs their backpacks)

We run-walk to Big Sis’s school and make it just as her teacher is walking her class inside. At her school, each class lines up on the playground and the teachers walk each class into the school. Parents stay outside on the playground.

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There are lots of tears still, as this is only the sixth day of school, and public school here starts at age 3 – so there are some pretty young kiddos getting used to leaving Mama, Papa and Abuela for part of the day. School for the first month only goes 9 to 1pm for the little ones. The rest of the school year (Oct-June), it goes through 2pm, and kids can stay for after school activities after that. Parents typically come home from work and all have lunch together as a family. Many parents leave their kids with a grandparent after that if they go back to work. Right now, around one in four Spaniards are out of work, so there are a lot of stay-at-home parents who are wishing they were not. Salaries tend to be much lower in Spain than the US, one usually requires two full time working parents to keep a household middle class. With public school starting at age three, this really cuts down on the cost of childcare burden that those of us with two working parents and no family nearby carry in the US.

We walk from Big Sis’s school to Little Brother’s school and drop him off. They start at 9.30. On the way, we run a couple of very quick errands. Baby Brother is sleeping thankfully on this morning, in the stroller (most of the time, I have to carry him so he won’t scream). My husband has a meeting this morning, so he has to run right after dropping off Little Brother.

I continue on a couple of blocks to our favorite cafe, where I sit in “our seat” – a sofa that overlooks the street. The waitress brings me a coffee while I nurse and people watch.

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I’ve got about 40 minutes until my Spanish class starts and I’m just trying to get Baby Brother satiated enough so that he won’t fuss during the class. The teacher isn’t terribly excited about me bringing my one-month-old to the class, but this is the only way. I have the breast milk I pumped earlier with me in case he gets upset. I could nurse him, but I know it will be faster and keep me more hands free if I just quickly give him a bottle in case he cries. I finish my coffee and pay the waitress. Baby Brother is totally asleep now after a refill and also laying in the stroller. I walk the four blocks to my class.

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He wakes for a moment but then stays pretty quiet in the baby carrier on my lap while I learn how to conjugate and use reflexive verbs properly. After my class, I run out of the building and the couple of blocks to Little Brother’s school. I have to pick him up immediately after my class ends. My husband’s meeting has ended so he’s just arrived at the school with me. As we walk toward home with the boys, we talk about what we need to pick up at the grocery store for today. Baby Brother starts to fuss and I realize I need to jet home to feed him while my husband goes to pick up Big Sis.

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I try to entertain Little Brother while nursing at home, since I can’t fix his lunch and he’s hungry. I’m waiting for Papa to get home with Big Sis and make their lunch. He plays with an app on the ipad (he wants to see pictures of the heart).  Papa gets home a few minutes later with Big Sis who throws her stuff on my bed while my husband reads a notice about some of the kids at school having lice. While I have a panic attack about an impending lice infestation and nurse the baby, they eat lunch in the other room.

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(ABOVE: My view 6-8 hrs of the day)

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When the big kids are ready to go for a nap, my husband holds my semi-fussy baby while I eat as quickly as possible. I run outside to take my laundry off the line and use the next fifteen minutes to sort and very messily fold it before shoving it in the direction of where it goes. What’s the rush? Well this is my only opportunity for a nap on these days and I need every minute of sleep I can get. We have to wake the kids up a tad early today to take them to the dentist.

This afternoon, I’m able to get about 30 minutes of sleep, which is enough to refresh me and get through the evening. We rush around waking the kids up and getting them a quick snack and dressed so we can get moving to the dentist. I nurse the baby and we run out the door 40 minutes later. We walk very quickly for the next six or seven blocks to the dentist’s office. Their building has no ramp, so we have to carry the stroller up about ten stairs and take two elevators to get all of us up to the office. Big Sis is starting to panic. We get inside and the dental assistant asks who wants to go first, and Big Sis insists that her Little Brother wants to go first. I know however that it will be better if she goes first rather than letting her fear build. She refuses to sit in the seat until the dentist and assistant promise they aren’t going to put the drill in her mouth. They do and she agrees to sit down, but is shaking and terrified. The dentist is super gentle with both kids, and I stand next to them bouncing my now very fussy baby. The dentist comments that she doesn’t know how we do it, and of course neither do we, yet. Neither kid has anything suspicious happening in their mouth, so we go to pay our bill. The total comes to $0. Yep, they charge us nothing. Insurance paid for it, right? Wrong, we were paying out of pocket this year and since neither kid had any issues, the dentist charged nothing. To celebrate, we walked down the “mushroom street” – a super fun pedestrian street decorated with mushrooms just for the pure entertainment of kids; where they played and got ice cream.

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It was starting to get late, so we decided to head home and hit the supermarket on the way, before Baby Boy woke up demanding another feeding. Because he wouldn’t allow me to put him down, we decided to use his part of the stroller to put the food in (some of the food pictured below). We also stopped at a copy shop on the way home to print some of the official paperwork we need to take to the US embassy (we’ll go in a couple of weeks), to declare the birth of Baby Boy and document him as a US citizen.

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When we get home, I nurse holding Baby Boy with one hand and put groceries away with the other while my husband makes dinner for the kids. After they eat, we get started on baths, which because of our tiny tub means one kid at a time. We take our freshly cleaned kids to their room, groom them, pj them and read them a couple of stories. Lights go out and we sing a few songs before they get settled and my husband and I go to make dinner and take our own showers. I have to nurse Baby Boy a lot in the evenings so I’m usually nursing him while putting the big kids in bed, and then again while eating my dinner.

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After cleaning up and relaxing for maybe 30 minutes, my husband and I are finally on our way to bed. Baby wakes up and wants to nurse again of course. This is the moment when I typically give him a bottle to get a break, but I already fed him my pumped milk earlier so I just sit down and relax while he eats. At some point we all fall asleep only to be awoken by Little Brother this time who is uncharacteristically screaming for Papa and inconsolable. We don’t know why and he wants us both but also wants neither of us. Finally my husband takes him as now Baby is up and needs to be nursed again. This goes on the rest of the night until our alarm goes off again in the morning….

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My husband soothing a fussy baby so I can showerpoop

(ABOVE: Taking care of a late night explosion)

DAY 2:

This crazy morning is pretty much the same except nursing goes more quickly so I’m able to make my own breakfast and help get the big kids dressed. I’m also able to throw in a load of laundry before we leave. Our washing machine runs on three hour cycles, so I usually put laundry in before leaving to walk the kids to school in the morning and then it’s done when I get back home with Little Brother. This morning, Big Sis has decided she hates what I chose for her to wear and throws a pretty huge tantrum before we are finally able to get her clothed and out the door – not an uncommon event. We step outside at the same time as our downstairs neighbor. As we call to Big Sis to wait for us and not run too far ahead, the neighbor hears her name and turns around, “Ah, you are ‘Big Sis’!” Yes, we tell her. “You sure do cry a lot,” she says teasingly. My husband and I laugh, as this is not the first time a neighbor has made this observation. The entire building knows Big Sis tends to cry a lot as all of us keep our windows open 24/7. Even if they’ve never seen her before, but they know her name and her cry.

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(ABOVE: attempt to do the dishes before we leave in the mornings)

We all walk to Big Sis’s school, and then Little Brother to his school and then we make our way to our cafe again to wake up with my favorite coffee in my favorite spot just as baby needs to eat again.

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This morning, I have a little time before needing to take baby to the pediatrician for his one month check up/weigh in. I use my time to try and blog (with one hand of course) and to create a “must do” list for my parents’ upcoming visit to Alicante. Trying to brainstorm for them as first time visitors not just to Alicante, but to Spain and even to Europe is a lot of fun. I’m remembering all of the things I found most amazing, charming, interesting, etc. back when I first began traveling here. I can’t wait for them to come (next week) and the kids are also incredibly excited.

After around 90 minutes, I pay my bill and head to the pediatrician’s office. I’ll have to handle this appointment on my own as my husband has a meeting this morning and needs to take off. He tells me he’s quite sure my Spanish has progressed enough to handle this before kissing me and running off.

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(ABOVE: The health record book you get for your child at birth – a convenient way to keep track of their info)

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(ABOVE: No air in the waiting area!)

There’s an abnormally long wait to see the doctor this morning. I nurse while I wait and think about how to explain this week’s observations in Spanish to the doctor. and I’m anxious to get in and talk to him about Baby Brother’s increased frequency and strength in crying. He’s become much fussier and I’m suspecting it’s due to gas. I’m also really hoping he’s gained weight this week – he’s been a bit slow to gain and as I’ve been breastfeeding almost exclusively, it’s a lot of pressure to make sure he’s getting all of the nourishment he needs.

When we finally get inside, I quickly learn that he’s gained a good amount of weight, just as he all over the exam table (the baby). The doctor cleans it up and I put baby back down to finish the exam, and then he poops. The doctor patiently cleans that mess up too while I diaper him to prevent further damage. We discover that he’s not only gained weight but gained length and is in the 100% percentile for height! We then chat in detail about Baby Brother’s fussiness and decide it’s probably stomach pains and/or colic (which I suspect is really just a bucket for any non-specific gastro issues, and an unfortunate one that typically leaves the specific cause for the problem undiagnosed). The doctor prescribes some gas drops and we set up our next appointment. I’m fairly confident that I understood everything we talked about.

I now have just enough time to run over to Little Brother’s school to pick him up. I take them home and my husband goes to pick up Big Sis while I nurse again. He also drops the prescription off at the pharmacy. Once again, I hurriedly eat lunch and run outside to hang the freshly washed laundry on the line to dry. I then rush to my bedroom with my baby to try and get a bit of rest before the big kids wake up.

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(ABOVE: The dishes multiply by mid-day!)

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Today, after naptime, my husband decides to take the kids to visit their abuelos. We discuss whether I should stay home to get some rest or go with them. We finally decide that I will go with them and we’ll just stay for a couple of hours. We stop at the pharmacy to get the gas drops on the way to the car. We’re rushing because I’ve just finished nursing know we don’t have much time to make it to my in-laws before it’s time to nurse again. We have to go to their house to see them which is challenging for me because it stresses me out to be away from my house for hours at a time, and those are also valuable opportunities for me to get some much needed rest. This evening’s visit is rather pleasant and after a couple of hours and the kids getting a nice swim in and some fun play time with their abuelos, we head back home to do the nighttime routine all over.

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(ABOVE: My toenail falls off during bedtime when a toddler kicks me.)

Typing all of this up has been interesting and exhausting. We are still trying to wrap our heads around having another child to care for. With a newborn that has been somewhat high maintenance, it’s been even more challenging. However, we truly do work together as a team to get everything done. The other huge factor is that my husband is on sabbatical, so while he’s working every day, the time he needs to work is substantially reduced so that he’s able to heavily participate in child care and helping me get some rest. This is why this postpartum experience, in spite of having one more kid, is significantly easier than when Little Brother was born and I was on my own. I also know how incredibly fleeting these newborn days are and though they are so tough, I’m trying to remember these little details, to remember how my tiny baby feels in my arms. While I celebrate each ounce he gains, I also mourn them. He’s a beautiful baby and as this is most likely my last newborn, I’ll miss being able to fit my baby into the crook of my elbow or the way his warm little body wraps around mine and relaxes completely when he’s nursing. I’m moving non-stop and I’m tired – no, exhausted. I’ve almost never got a free minute (or hand) and it’s taking me three weeks at a time to write a blog post, or respond to an email (when I can remember). BUT. It’s awesome. It’s a beautiful time and I just know that someday I will have these amazing memories of this extra special time and I’ll be tempted to tell that woman in front of me at the grocery store to hold on because it all goes by so fast.

Rebuilding A Life

I use the term rebuilding because that’s what it feels like happens after you get home from the hospital. The life you had before was blown up with that final push. Whether it’s your first or your fifth, everything changes – routines, relationships, habits, even shoe size, everything.

What’s been most interesting about this experience for me is that I never planned for a third baby. If you knew me fifteen years ago (around the time I was working in my first post-college job), I would have told you I didn’t want kids. I simply wasn’t interested. About five years after that, I amended my resolution and realized in fact I did want kids, or rather, a kid. Later, when I met my husband, we talked about having kids and at most discussed two kids. It’s for this reason that I can’t believe I’m sitting here right now, nursing my third. It has both scared and thrilled the adventurous side of me to have such an unexpected and absolutely fantastic twist to my life. (Our stroller for 3 – baby is in the “middle” seat, behind Little Brother and in front of Big Sis, riding on the scooter)

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I told my husband last night that his idea to have another baby was one of the best ideas he’s ever had. I was the more hesitant one. When I think back to how I approached this, I am surprised I didn’t think it through more. In fact, I very passively approached this in a way that is uncharacteristic of me. I was worried about over-thinking it and about becoming obsessed if we weren’t able to conceive; or alternatively becoming so overwhelmed with the idea of a third that I would close the door on the idea completely, so I purposely tried not to think about it too much.

The conversation started when Little Brother was five days old. My husband, who adores children, was admiring our newborn and said to me, FRESHLY home from the hospital and overwhelmed with having two kids, “So, when do you think we can do this again?” I nearly choked on the eggs I was eating as I asked him to clarify what “this” he was referring to. “Having a baby,” he said in a very straightforward way. “As in ANOTHER baby? Are you crazy?” And so the conversation went. Or more my rant to him explaining that you don’t bring up another child to a woman who is two days home from the hospital with her newborn. I don’t remember him bringing that one up again until eight months later, in August, when Little Brother was ten months old and we were in Spain for our summer visit. We hadn’t had any time alone during that visit, my father-in-law had recently recovered from colon cancer and was still rather tired and my mother-in-law was having back problems and they didn’t feel they could watch our kids alone. So we were unable to escape our parenting responsibilities until one afternoon when our friends offered to give them lunch while my husband and I went for a swim, alone.

It was only an hour or so, but it changed everything. We were at our friends’ summer house, which is right on the water in the most beautiful little town just south of Alicante, called Santa Pola. There are beautiful beaches in Santa Pola, but our friends had recommended a dip on a rocky area near their home. We climbed down the huge boulders and made our way into the cool water in the shade of some palm trees. We held hands under water and enjoyed our only moment off parenting duty that month, and used it to talk about another baby. I can’t remember exactly what my husband said when he brought it up, but he convinced me not to try to have a baby, but instead to stop taking my pill. As I’ve had fertility problems over the years (due to being hypo-thyroid), I assumed this method had a likelihood of leading nowhere. In the more unlikely event that it led somewhere, I would have the attitude that while it wasn’t my plan, it was meant to be. Imagine my surprise a few months later when, without any real effort on our part, I had a positive pregnancy test in my hand. And (we looked this up on our calendar), 362 days after that fateful conversation, Baby Brother was born. The lesson? Don’t let your friends babysit if you aren’t prepared for the consequences. (Consequences below:)

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One of the things that convinced me a few weeks later to actually stop taking my pills is the time limit on these decisions and being in my late thirties with a family history of early menopause, my time limit is likely coming anytime. I don’t want to look back and regret hesitating on this decision. I’ve never spoken with someone in their 60s or 70s who has told me they regret having one more child. But I have, repeatedly, had people tell me they regret not having a second or a third or even a fourth. “I just wanted one more,” my 71-year-old neighbor said to me two years ago (one more would have been number four), “and we just didn’t talk about it back then, but I’ve always wished I had.” It’s those kinds of sentiments that gave me the courage to throw out the pills and see what happened next. (What happened next:)

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I can’t imagine I’d ever regret this decision – yes, it will make life crazier and everything more expensive but I’d rather lose some cash, free time and comfort in exchange for the much more valuable experience of a beautiful son to raise. Additionally, I hope I’m providing our kids with a strong support system that includes parents and siblings. I hope to teach them respect for others, no matter how different the three of them may be from each other. And of course part of that will be the tricky balance of building their self esteem based on their unique strengths, talents and interests – and to not make them feel like they have to compete with each other for our love and approval. If any of you have any amazing words of wisdom as we embark on this journey, please do share!

And now I have this beautiful baby to love and care for, one I never imagined and couldn’t be happier to have. He’s a mama’s boy so far, content as could be as long as I’m holding him. Makes it challenging to blog but I don’t mind holding him pretty much all of the time – I know how quickly this phase goes, like trying to hold water, and this time will most likely be my last. He is also our most alert at this early stage. Little Brother brought him some toys to play with yesterday. We held them over his head and he was gazing intently at them as Little Brother told him what each toy was. We’ve all been spending time together as I nurse. It was not something I managed to figure out after Little Brother’s birth. But this time I’m loving using one hand to hold and feed Baby Brother and the other to read a story or play a game or tickle or just hold one of the big kids. It’s a great way to show them I still have room for them, they’re still incredibly important to Mommy. (I like including pics in my posts, but since most of this post is about things I wouldn’t/couldn’t- post pictures of, I’ll just include lots of pics of the baby with different family members. PS I love how it looks like the baby is either always sleeping or contentedly awake, lol!)

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It feels, and perhaps this is just me rationalizing the decision, but it feels like Baby Brother was missing from our family before and now that he’s here it all makes sense. For some reason the “big kids” are being (almost) perfect angels with him. They are excited about him. Every time Little Brother sees him, he shouts, “Hola Bebe!” He gives his baby brother the sweetest kisses you’ve ever seen on his head and feet and if he ever sees a lonely paci sitting around, he runs to shove it in baby’s mouth (not helpful when he’s sleeping!).  When the baby cries, he tries to comfort him saying, “Yeah baby, yeah, yeah,” while patting him. Meanwhile Big Sis acts like this is also her baby. She wants to hold him and take care of him. We’re seeing a bit of regression in that she wants to be rocked like a baby, but mostly she’s been incredibly sweet. She’s even brought things to me while I’m nursing to make me more comfortable, without asking! She so desperately wants to connect with the baby and be helpful, I love to see this side of her.

On the subject of breastfeeding, well, I’ll describe what I’m doing at this moment to illustrate my point. I’m sitting in a busy cafe, typing one-handed on my tablet, using the other hand to hold my nursing baby. Using zero hands to hold a nursing cover, because I’m not using one. That’s right, my boob is out in the open air and exactly zero people give a !@#$ about it. In fact, strangers will come to admire the babe while he’s nursing. It’s not creepy or weird, but sweet. “Aw, look how he sucks, he’s eating so well, so sweet,” is the refrain. As someone who lost her shame at the birth of her first, and then any that was left was removed at the birth of my second when around twenty doctors and nurses from the hospital came to witness Baby Brother’s most unusual exit; and if there was any shame left at all, it was lost two weeks ago as I was deep in my labor and my father-in-law came to sit with us for a while – me standing in a paper sheet that only covered part of my front. Yes, I have not an iota of shame left and do not find any embarrassment in nursing in very public places without a cover. It’s funny because this is the first time I’ve regularly come across lactation rooms in public places and I haven’t needed to use one yet.

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The first time I publicly bared all was about a week ago. We were taking Baby Brother for a weight check and on the way stopped at a cafe. I had just nursed him and thought we had time to make it to the appointment with a quick coffee stop along the way, but he had other ideas. Instead, as we sat in the cafe and he started to fuss and cry, I thought, this is it, this is the moment of truth. This is when I test whether I will be accepted or not. As he latched on, I took a quick peak around to see if anyone around me had been scandalized. Turns out no one was even looking in my direction. And whenever someone did happen to glance my way, they gave no indication of seeing anything even remotely interesting or out of norm, besides an adorable newborn baby that is!

I’ve nursed in a cafe, in a park, in line at the civil registry and in the dark; I’ve nursed in the company of friends and strangers; family and (student) exchangers…          …Blame this silliness on lack of sleep people.

To say I wish we could be this nonchalant about breastfeeding in public in the US would be an understatement. It’s a damn shame that we can’t get over ourselves and just support nursing moms any way we can. Instead they have to isolate themselves in their houses in the case they should offend anyone. Or wrestle with a cover – hot for mom and baby and I always continuously worried my baby was suffocating under there. Meanwhile moms who bottle feed, regardless of the reason, are also judged in the US. So you must be wondering how bottle feeding moms are treated in Spain – are they mocked in the formula aisle at Target (as a friend of mine was not too long ago)? Are they heckled in the park? Nope. I’ve actually been encouraged to give my baby a bottle, at least at night. Everyone is acknowledging that breast milk is “best”. I’ve seen the same posters and fliers and heard the same affirmations from medical professionals here. However, at the same time, they are also advocating getting some rest. Taking care of mommy. An utterly exhausted mommy is useless for everyone. While we haven’t tried a bottle yet (and therefore my meandering nonsensical and late post given my exhaustion), I will not feel embarrassed or judged when and if I purchase formula or give my baby a bottle in public.

I wish I knew or understood why breastfeeding in public is so much more accepted here than in the US. Is it because babies and children are so valued here and therefore the population overlooks any social norms of staying covered up for the greater good of a healthier new generation? Is it because of our proximity to topless beaches? I haven’t had this question answered yet but am incredibly curious what the difference is and how to seed that attitude in the US. I’d also like to give a shout out to all of those brave US moms who nurse in public, who use covers or don’t, who bottle feed for whatever reason, who are out there making the best choices they can for their babies and their families. Because as many before me have acknowledged, being a parent is hard and we should just support each other in making good choices for our families! I’ve never been brave enough to nurse in public without a cover in the US, but maybe this experience will help give me the courage to do so when we get back.

There is such a love and adoration for babies in Spain – everyone wants to know how you are and how is the baby. My theory – it’s a communal culture so all care for the most vulnerable. Everyone should get at least one day here with their newborn, it’s amazing to see the shared sense of value each new life brings to the community. What mom doesn’t love sharing her little angel and having others ooh and ahh is endlessly satisfying. It’s the same itch you scratch when you post a picture of your newborn on Facebook. Besides everything I’ve already mentioned about this experience of having a baby in Spain, this is most certainly one of my favorite things. While I’m so far from my friends and family, it’s this shared sense of adoration of my baby that makes me feel much less alone.

In-between breastfeeding Baby Brother, this past week was spent chipping away at the arduous task of making baby an official Spanish and US citizen. Besides an incredibly boring amount of paperwork, lines and more paperwork, of which my husband has dealt with 95%, we’ve learned some fascinating things along the way.

First, the Spanish side. The first step is to get the birth certificate. For this, one has to take the baby’s information, which the Dr fills out at the hospital, to the Civil Registry and wait in line. My poor husband did this multiple times before finally obtaining the birth certificate – due to the fact that each time he was missing some paperwork. This is kind of a joke in Spain, and wasn’t terribly funny as he spent four mornings last week walking to the Civil Registry, waiting in line and finding out he needed something else and then something else, etc. When the two of us were there and finally getting the birth certificate, we had just solved a major problem – providing official paperwork that listed both my maiden and married name. You see, in Spain, they do not change their names when they get married (or at least very very few do this). Legally, a person has two last names, one from their father (the first last name) and one from their mother (the second last name). Their father’s last name (the first one) is the one that is passed along to any descendants. Therefore, the only people in the world who share the same first and second last name as you is a sibling. Even your parents will only share one last name with you. The fact that I changed my name when my husband and I got married caused much conversation over the years with my in-laws. It’s a foreign a concept to them as their naming system is to most in the US. My husband had already been living in the US for over a decade before we got married and was more than happy for me to change my name as he was both familiar with and understood the reasons for this practice in the context of living in the US. The problem is that because we share our name, it was causing a lot of confusion. The other problem that emerged is that I had my ex-husband’s last name when my husband and I got married – which was making it seem as though my ex-husband’s last name was my maiden name. This of course chilled me to the bone and caused much angst until we found the paperwork we needed. Interestingly, this was not a problem in the least when we were presenting our other two children to the Spanish embassy in the US. As we sat chatting with the employee who was creating our son’s birth certificate at the registry here in Alicante, she told us that she regularly has immigrants in our exact situation (where the mother previously had her ex-husband’s last name), and the folks at the Spanish registry were forced to give the children the last name of the ex-husband! (Long pause for dramatic effect and to shake off the horrors of this actually happening to real people, and nearly to us!)

The US citizenship process (so far) has not been much more straightforward. Thankfully there is a checklist of what needs to be done published specifically for Americans born in Spain, along with the capability to make an appointment at the embassy in Madrid online. But we don’t live in Madrid. So now we’ll be traveling there in about a month with our two kids + newborn. Ugh. At least we have lots of family there to visit!

The basic way to claim US citizenship for a baby born abroad is through a blood relationship to at least one parent. This sounds rather straightforward at first, that is until you begin scanning the Q&A on the AmericanCitizensAbroad website. For example, read the below and you will see how complicated some situations are. I was rather shocked that these were not included in extending citizenship:

“Q: I am an American woman and I gave birth outside the USA after receiving an implanted ovum. Is my child an American citizen?
A: In cases of assisted reproductive technology and same-sex marriages, the US State Department continues to apply a basic rule for recognizing US citizenship of children born abroad. The rule is that what counts is the actual blood relationship. In other words, donated ova or sperm transmit the donor’s possible US citizenship to the future child. US citizenship is not automatically conferred by an American surrogate mother or a same-sex American partner….” SOURCE: http://americansabroad.org/issues/citizenship/citizenship-requirements-faqs/

HUH?! Who knew, right?

Meanwhile, along the way, we learned that Spain offers something called the numerous family discount. These are rather generous discounts offered on everything from train tickets and school textbooks to museum and theme park tickets for families with three or more children. The purpose was to encourage a higher birthrate, as Spain’s has been dropping for many years. In fact, according to this website (http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2013/mar/25/family-size), only around 5% of Spain’s population currently have three or more children! No wonder everyone I come across tells me I’m “very brave.” While the US proportion of families with three or more children is not much higher (around 9%, according to US Census Bureau data), it’s still almost double the proportion in Spain.

Interestingly, most here in Spain tell me the people are choosing to have less children because of the expenses related to raising a child. However, as we’ve learned first hand on this trip, the cost of living is significantly cheaper here. To be fair, wages are lower than they are in the US. But in Spain, public school starts at age 3 – that’s 2-3 years of childcare savings for families where both parents work – and that’s a fortune. According to Child Care Aware of America (CCAA), an advocacy group that tracks daycare costs, in 35 states, it’s cheaper to send your kid to an in-state university than to put an infant in daycare.

Now add that to the fact that public universities here in Spain are almost free – high school grads can attend with very little cost (comparatively). Further, excellent public health care is available – though you can chose to supplement this with private health insurance the rates are laughably cheap. Our monthly utilities have been literally one-fourth of what we pay in the US and food costs significantly less, especially when you factor in my love of manchego cheese and good rioja – much cheaper to purchase them in the homeland.

I’ve spent a lot of time these past few weeks describing the dozens of things I love about Alicante, about Spain, about living near my husband’s amazing family and lifelong friends. Sure, a few differences and annoyances but no pasa nada. However, I’d like to admit something as I close this post. In the wake of giving birth, I’ve suddenly become horribly homesick. I have never professed a great love for Greensboro, NC; but these days I’m longing for home. I want some BBQ from Natty Greene’s. I want a big hearty breakfast from Mimi’s. I want to sit in my neighbor’s driveway with everyone from our cul de sac, eating roasted peanuts and drinking beer and trying to keep my kids from destroying their flower beds. I want to go for a run at Battleground park. I want to take my kids to the Science Center. I want to have tapas at Gia, attend a service at Westover, run with my moms from StrollerFit, get sushi at Imperial Koi, get a to-go pizza at Pieworks, lunch with my colleagues in Winston, take the kids to a sticky, messy, noisy, three-year-old birthday party with cake and balloons, make a run to Target on New Garden, meet my husband for a walk around the Guilford College campus, go for a nature walk with the kids on the Greenway that connects to the end of our street….. I miss y’all. Send me a note telling me you’re still alive and what fun things you’re up to, I need it this week : )

The Arrival

On Facebook, I posted that Baby Brother “arrived” on Tuesday, August 12 at 7.25pm. What an interesting way to announce a birth, as if we heard a knock on the door and opened it to find a stork with a baby bundle in his mouth. As if there was no nine month pregnancy, and no labor or delivery, as if he just “poof” appeared. I can’t actually think of a more inaccurate way of describing a baby coming into the world than to say he has “arrived”.

I hereby take back that post. Instead it should read something like, “After nine tedious months of growth and development and weeks, days and then hours of labor pains and other side effects growing consistently more intense, Mama was at long last provided relief after she used every fiber of her being, fighting fear and giving into her body’s need to push her baby out of her belly as the lower half of her body tore itself open. Miraculously, Mom and Baby are fine and though exhausted, very happy to finally be able to look one another in the eye and begin the process of falling in love.”

I’m writing this as my newborn naps in my lap, and we are waiting to be released from the hospital. Across the hall from me, I can hear an almost mama to be moaning in the throes of labor. The father (I assume) is in the hallway shouting, “You have to come, now!” This is the crazy, terrifying, exciting miracle of birth. It is surely not an “arrival.”

I’ve already shared many of my nine month pregnancy discomforts here so I won’t recount those moments. I will mention though that in this final week, I added sciatica in both legs, brought on by baby’s head being incredibly low – small movements from him caused sudden, crippling pain for me. No fun while walking down the street to suddenly scream out in pain. Which of course makes everyone around you think you’re in sudden labor. I also started and stalled in my labor three times, to my intense frustration.

I’ll pick up the birth story after the second time labor started and stopped for me – a Sunday afternoon. My contractions were very intense – hard to breathe/talk/walk. They were lasting 60-90 seconds. It was time! We were already at my in-law’s house and had dropped the kids’ bags off so they could stay there and be ready to go at a moment’s notice. So, we stayed there as I counted my contractions. I wanted to make sure they were going in a regular rhythm for at least an hour. After around 30 minutes, they started spacing apart. My husband asked if he should call the OB, and I said no with much regret though moments before I was quite sure that we were heading to the hospital. We waited another 40 minutes or so before deciding to go on home to see what would happen. What happened was nothing. My next OB appointment was in the morning so I thought we’d just go on in and tell her what happened then instead of calling and interrupting her weekend.

When we arrived at her office the next morning, the nurse monitored my contractions for around an hour before seeing the Dr. When she came to read the results, she clapped her hands and said, “Where are your kids?” My husband answered, “They’re at the park with their nanny. Why?” She said, “You guys are surely going to the hospital today. ” I wasn’t sure if she was teasing us, but the OB came and had a similar reaction. “Let’s go talk,” she waved us into her office and checked me and did an ultrasound before saying anything else. She explained that between my regular contractions, the fact that I was between 4-5 centimeters dilated, I was also effaced and baby’s head was down. I was ready to go but my body wasn’t progressing – the question was why.

She presented a theory then that took us some time to consider. She told us that she suspected that my emotions – specifically my fears were preventing labor from moving forward. She theorized that perhaps being in a foreign country with a new doctor and a new system was causing my angst. I don’t disagree, but as she spoke I suddenly began to realize that I did have fears – quite a few actually and perhaps they were more important than I was giving them credit for. First, I was facing a birth without pain meds for the first time. Not because I have a strongly held belief or even desire to experience what we refer to as a “natural birth” but because I simply don’t react well to the epidural meds and so didn’t feel I had any other choice. As I explored this possibility of my fears getting in the way, I came to realize that perhaps it was also the trauma of Little Brother’s birth that I was holding onto.

I have described the recovery from his birth and even my time in the hospital. What I haven’t explained is what happened when he came out. As I was getting ready to push, it was discovered that Little Brother had turned his face out, flexing his neck and putting himself in a position so that instead of the top of his head coming out first, his nose was coming out. While this is incredibly rare, it does happen from time to time. In somewhere around 90% of these cases, an OB will do an automatic c-section, because of the risk of the baby breaking their neck on the way out. In our case, we were given a choice to either push or go for the c-section. But we didn’t have time for a second opinion, to go online and do research, we didn’t really have time to think at all – he was in the birth canal and it was time for me to push or not – RIGHT NOW. We chose push based on what we knew in that moment, and while Little Brother’s face was horribly injured – he survived and within a few weeks had completely healed from his injuries. But it’s very hard for me to look at those newborn pics – the ones we didn’t share with anyone because as I explained at the time, “This isn’t what he looks like. This isn’t how I want people to meet him.” I cringe and feel overwhelmed with emotion when I think about that moment and my intense love for Little Brother. He has the face of an angel and it’s unbelievable that we came so close to losing him before we ever even got to meet.

So one might understand after reading this how that experience surely affected my state of mind approaching the birth – though for me until I talked to my OB last Monday, it was mostly unconscious. She told us she thought baby and I were ready to go and that we just needed a little push to go into labor, induction. But wait, this is exactly what I didn’t want … I had a very visceral reaction to her suggestion. She told me it was completely up to us. She would go with us right then to the hospital if we wanted, or we could wait a day, a week, whatever we decided. She was just giving us her opinion and no pressure. “Go home, think about it, call me when you’re ready. Or not, just come back in two days – baby is low and you’re contracting and I need to closely monitor you in the meantime.”

My husband and I didn’t go straight home. We walked around Alicante for about two hours while the kids were with their nanny. We talked and talked and walked in silence and sat at a cafe with WiFi to read and read and then walk some more. Then we went home and while the kids were napping we talked some more. I prayed, I meditated, I fought with myself. We went back and forth and back and forth. I finally decided I thought it was for the best to go ahead and induce, and my husband agreed. So we set up a time to meet our OB at the hospital the next day, which gave us more time to reconsider. And me more time to go into labor. I went for a walk by myself that evening, I walked and walked for around two hours. Nothing happened. I came home, put the kids to bed, ate dinner, nothing. I went to bed and woke up in the middle of the night with contractions again. I was relieved and hopeful – but again after about 40 minutes of strong contractions, they once again receded and I eventually went back to sleep. When we got up in the morning, we were able to eat breakfast together and get the kids ready to go to and talk about the birth and them staying with their abuelos and it was great to have that time and not be rushing or freaking out.

But I had a cloud over me – I just couldn’t feel 100% sure we were doing the right thing. As my husband and I talked, I realized it was my personal hang-ups. My birth plan didn’t include being induced or having to make a decision about it. It was just me going into labor without needing that push. Secondly, I realized if there were some other method being offered to put me into labor, I would jump at it – herbal, acupuncture, etc. So, I reasoned, what is the difference in giving your body a little push in these other ways versus pitocin? Most arguments against I’ve heard have to do with pitocin shocking your body into labor and causing strong contractions – stronger than what you would have experienced naturally. This leads to what many refer to as the medicine intervention cascade as these stronger contractions are too difficult to handle and lead to asking for an epidural which leads to c-section and some are even out there arguing that those who are induced have higher infant mortality! No wonder I had such a visceral reaction to the idea of choosing to be induced – I’ve been essentially brainwashed against it. I’ve naturally got an analytical mind so I went about picking apart each piece of the argument for and against induction to make sure I was understanding why my OB, whom I trust, would be recommending this to me at this moment.

The conclusion I came to for myself is that perhaps inductions overall can lead to many of these negative outcomes that are shared and argued; but when factoring where the mother is in the labor, the scenario changes pretty significantly. In my case, I was already nearly halfway dilated, my cervix was soft and effaced and the baby was down. He was inside past the longest previous pregnancy I’ve had (clearly not the typical pattern for the third pregnancy to go longer), he was measuring bigger and I was exhausted from my late-pregnancy symptoms. Further, as I read the firsthand experiences of women who were in a similar place as I was, and who had been induced and had other labors to compare them to; they described that their induced labor was no more or less intense in their opinions. My OB had also already reassured me that she would be giving me the lowest possible dosage and constantly monitoring me. These were all of the things that swayed me to the “dark side”. (Please remember reader, I am not a doctor or medical professional of any kind – just a momma who wants to understand all of my options and arguments for and against out there – do not take anything I’ve written here as medical advice in any way!)

And if you can believe it, my OB did closely monitor me. In fact, she sat on the bed with me and watched every single contraction. Her hand was on my belly as it tightened and loosened. “How was that one?” She’d ask each time. She sat with me for the entire three hours I labored (except about 15 minutes when she went to get a cup of coffee), and of course the final 20 minutes of transition and pushing. I can say from my previous experiences that my contractions were completely manageable (until transition – 15 minutes of hell), they were never “on top of each other” or so much to take that I questioned my ability to handle them or wanted an epidural. Things moved quietly, smoothly and without drama. (Me checking into the hospital – the final baby bump shot)

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Before I get into those final moments, I’d like to describe where I was laboring. When we arrived at the hospital – a private facility, we were shown to “our room” – this would be both where I would labor and where I would recover. The birth room is more of a surgical facility as they are very strict about sterility in that moment. There are also public hospitals here where many give birth. I’ve heard that those facilities are also fantastic and that women are treated very well. The downside is one has to share a room with at least one other mother – which I thought would be outright torture! Can’t think of a more important moment in my life when I would like some peace, quiet and privacy than just after I’ve given birth. Anyway, the room is actually almost exactly like a hotel room – balcony and view of the Mediterranean included! Both my husband and I have a real bed to sleep in – the only “hospital-like” quality is that there is a call button for a nurse. They take this very seriously as instead of constantly streaming in and out of your room, they wait for you to let them know something is wrong. Sure, I’ve had nurses come in a few times a day (during the day ONLY, not at night!) to bring food, water, change sheets, check my temp, etc., but it’s far and few between. The hallway is quiet and I am more rested at the end of this hospital stay than I ever was with the other two. (my room w/a view):

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But back to the birth. My OB, who was monitoring each contraction, asked me to tell her when I started to feel the downward pressure changing. When I alerted her to that, she jumped up and said, “Let’s go on downstairs,” to the birthing room. Things had been moving along pretty steadily and as my contractions weren’t so bad, I thought I had around two hours left. My OB said she was going ahead to change and a moment later someone appeared at my door with a bed to transport me. As we made our way to the birthing room, I was suddenly overcome with emotion – my new baby was coming soon and I was still terrified. They sent my husband to change into scrubs and wheeled me into the birthing room as I started to cry. “Que pasa?” My OB said, surprised at my sudden change of mood. “I’m scared,” I explained, “I know it won’t be like Little Brother, but I’m nervous.” She nodded, understanding as she knew the story well. She hugged me and said some reassuring words and suddenly a horrible contraction hit me. For the first time, I moaned in pain. “A strong one, eh?” She said. “Yes,” I replied a bit breathless. She gave me a couple of tips on how to sit and breath and we all realized my husband was missing. He had gone to change and no one could find him. This unfortunately set me off into a bit of a panic as at the same time, I unknowingly hit transition. I was a bundle of nerves and I had the worst contractions coming and I didn’t realize I was so close to the end.

Instead, as my husband arrived finally (in reality he was only missing for perhaps five minutes – wasn’t sure which room they’d brought me into and was also unaware of how close to the end I was), wave after wave of contractions hit me and my back started spasming. I had no chance to catch my breath and no chance to ask any questions – what I was trying to say was, “Is this normal? Is this transition?” Instead I was just yelling out in pain and no one could figure out why I’d lost control. The nurses were trying to catch my attention to calm me down. My OB was a soothing presence trying to show me how to breathe. My husband was trying to hold my hand or press on my back or help me in some way but I just was beyond communication. It was so frustrating for us all. Suddenly, I felt the urgent need to push – but again, I thought I was quite a ways from the end. I hadn’t caught that my OB knew things were moving very quickly or that I was fully dilated. I moved from active labor to transition to ready to push in less than thirty minutes. I was pushing and was finally able to shout something to that effect when I heard my OB tell me yes, it was time and to PUSH! I heard my husband encouraging me and I felt my baby coming out as I closed my eyes and pushed with all of my might against the pain. I was in disbelief that it was all happening so quickly, that I could feel every centimeter of my baby coming out of me. I was trying to assess if he was OK, but it was all so incredibly fast that next thing I knew, I had a baby on my stomach and they were telling me, “Here he is mama!” My husband was so happy and I was still confused but watched as a team of people went to work on my son. He was perfect – they were just cleaning and weighing him.

A man was at my side – a doctor. He spoke English and he was explaining that he was there to give me some medicine to relieve my pain. But it was over. I was so panicked and out of it that they had sent for an emergency tranquilizer dose for me – a bit of a medicinal slap in the face. I don’t blame them at all. The thing was, I went so quickly from transition to pushing and pushed him out so quickly that there wasn’t time for him to even arrive in the room, much less administer anything. Further, my OB didn’t have a chance to administer an episiotomy so I tore naturally (which I prefer anyway, so all the better). So instead, the anesthesiologist applied a local anesthetic as my placenta came and then I was stitched up.

I was calm and finally understanding that it was all over. That my baby was here, that I pushed him out without any kind of medication and that everyone was fine. I was fine, he was fine, he was in fact big – bigger than my other two – just one ounce shy of 8lbs. My husband was so excited and telling me what a great job I did, but I felt like a failure. I had panicked in the end and I was so out of it I almost missed what had happened. I started to apologize to everyone – the nurses who I physically fought as they strained to pull my legs apart, my incredibly kind and wise and just amazing OB, and my incredibly supportive husband. They all stopped me, they were smiling and telling me I did great. “You did this with no epidural, it’s normal.” Is what they were saying. You don’t need to apologize. I’m sorry you tore and we couldn’t stop you but you went very quickly, which is what I was afraid might happen, my OB explained.

I was quickly brought back to my labor, now recovery room and placed in the bed. My new son was there and they gave him to me so we could nurse – which he did eagerly. I was sitting up in bed and everyone was congratulating me and instead of feeling exhausted and ready to collapse, I felt pretty good. I was a bit numb from the anesthesia/stitches, but other than that, I was surprisingly alert. We realized very quickly that so was our new son. He nursed and nursed and in-between my very anxious husband finally got to hold his new baby who opened his eyes and looked right at him. We don’t remember this kind of alertness in either of our two other newborns for several days. This baby was awake and ready to go, I was similarly feeling wonderful. While the entire experience wasn’t exactly how I’d pictured it – we had a perfect outcome. And while the pain was horrific for about twenty minutes, it was incredibly short and significantly less exhausting than hours of feeling bad after a reaction to an epidural. (baby boy & adoring parents):

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Now that we’re 36 hours postpartum, I can say that my recovery experience has been significantly better. I feel fantastic. I am energetic as nearly all of my late-pregnancy symptoms disappeared within moments of that final push. I have been able to sleep (between of course lots of nursing interruptions), as the staff here is so non-intrusive and no one is waking us up at night. My husband has been here with me the whole time and we haven’t had a single worry about our kids who are happily staying with their grandparents. It’s actually been idyllic. Besides the recent laboring woman I mentioned, I haven’t heard a soul – it’s as if I’m a wealthy woman being cared for in some resort facility. My OB has been by many times to check on me, bring gifts, etc.

The highlight has been seeing my kids all meet each other for the first time yesterday morning. Big Sis, who just turned four, is over the moon. She has been asking for months to see and touch and hold her baby brother, and she was finally able to do so with a huge smile. She cannot wait to help mommy “take care of him.” I know it’s not all going to be so easy with her, but it was incredibly fun to see her excitement. “Are you happy mommy? Because I’m SO SO SO happy!” She said to me yesterday. “I want to take him home and tickle him and have him sleep in my bed, OK Mommy?” She asked. (incredibly excited Big Sis)

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Meanwhile, Little Brother, not quite two, looked more confused and/or betrayed. We captured a pic of him looking at us just after he saw his baby brother for the first time- a look that seems to say, “Why have you done this to me? What have I done to deserve this?” A moment later, he was hitting his baby brother in the face. Poor Baby Brother is going to need to bulk up quickly. Thankfully it didn’t even wake him up, a hopeful sign. (incredibly disappointed Little Brother; was later swayed to give baby a kiss)

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It’s been wonderful to have so many visitors to meet Baby Brother already, to have so many phone calls and skype visits. We are truly blessed and we are so happy we made the decision to have this experience here in Alicante.

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Baby Brother’s name means “God has healed,” and I can’t think of a more appropriate way of describing what this baby has meant to us so far. We can’t get over that we have a third healthy baby. We are incredibly blessed and we know this. We will cherish this little gift and remember even when he’s screaming no at us in a couple of years and pushing his brother down that he is our little angel and we’re so lucky to have him. Now to discover what life is like with three kids..

A Spanish Adventure – raising kids and giving birth in Spain